A Winter Walk

At the Boone Co Historical Museum in Belvidere IL, there is a notebook written by a local naturalist named George H Walker. He explored Boone Co and the surrounding area in the 1890's-1910. He was also collecting data on bird migrations and food for the USDA. This notebook is a journal of winter forays into nature. This entry was dated 2/1/1898

A Winter Walk

I sometimes think a walk in winter is even more satisfactory than a June stroll. In summer one is fairly overwhelmed by the riches of Nature. Eyes and attention are distracted, one cannot take in everything and it is so hard to keep one's attention fixed on any one beast, bird, or fish when so many others are passing, decked in holiday array.

But in winter, the conditions are different. ones finds perhaps a dozen species of living creatures in an hour's walk, and those have to be hunted for in their special localities.

So many places are accessible, in winter, that have baffled your best efforts to penetrate during the summer. The rush bordered pool in the bog, whose edge is fifty feet from ground that does not threaten to drop you through into the semi-liquid mass beneath, is solid now. Jack Frost is a good friend to the winter walker.

How often have you stood at the edge of the solid ground with the quivering grass and rushes nodding towards you in a very suggestive way, and listened to the merry notes of the Marsh Wren or watched the sly movements of the mud hen among the lily-pads. But now all is different, with the help of the ice, you may boldly venture over the debatable ground and ransack the thatched homes of the wrens or stamp on the muskrat's hillock to watch the shadowy forms flee away under the black ice.

So, although is is zero weather, I am going to take you with me on a favorite walk of mine. And we shall see what we may.

Back in the hills rises a little brook and, until it reaches the marsh near the river, is fed by numberless springs along its course: hence the name, Spring Brook. It is a small and very insignificant stream on the map. Only a half a mile in length and of a very timid disposition, it hugs the bluffs as long as it may before venturing across the marsh and boggy pastures. But the fact that it rarely freezes over, makes it a source of pleasure and instruction to him who would approach it in the right spirit.

With Spring Brook for our destination, we will start. First our way lies through a large corn field. The ends of the cornstalks protrude through the snow and make lines of black against its whiteness. Here and there stands a stalk of corn. Even in this desolate field life shows itself and many a story lies revealed in the many tracks on the surface of the snow. Here a bunny has been nibbling at an ear of corn, overlooked by the farmer at harvest time. But the rabbit was evidently disturbed at his feast for tracks show how he bounded away in terror. In and out among the cornstalks zig-zags the trail and we follow, curious, to see what the end will be. Of a sudden the track stops, while a slight disturbance in the snow, a drop of blood clinging to a tuft of fur, and two fan shaped wing marks on either side, tell the tale. How vivid it all is. The frantic rush of the poor bunny for safety, his relentless enemy following each agonized double, and finally the scream or terror as his life goes out in the cruel talons of his silent winged pursuer, the owl.

What a life of terror the wild rabbits must live. Chased by day and pursued by night. Not even safe when curled up in their dens underground. The sniff sniff of the ferret is a sound that will wake any rabbit out of the soundest sleep, for it means that death is creeping down the burrow. Bunny seldom hesitates. The black hole under the roots of the old basswood vomits forth a bunch of fur, that goes through the brush at an astonishing gate. Nothing will bring the true speed of a rabbit like the sight of silky-coated, mild-eyed, ferret.

Crossing the corn field, we enter the woods. It is a small but beautiful patch of timber, left by the farmers as a "wood lot". Only a few acres of second-growth oak, poplar, and nut trees, hiding a ravine in their midst. In the low undergrowth of sumac and black berry vines overrun with bittersweet, we are sure to find the tree sparrows. These winter visitors from the far north, come in large companies to enliven our winter landscape. Always cheerful and contented, and generally singing, they dive in and out of the brush and weeds in a ceaseless hunt for food. True sparrows in their modest colors, they are easily recognized by the little fleck of black in their otherwise spotless gray breast.

Over their heads, on a tall poplar stub, Downy is beating his drum. How loud it sounds in the silent, leafless woods. Cold blasts hold no terrors for him, for has he not a snug log cabin to retreat to. To be sure his home is made only of one log and that standing on end, still it is just as warm and cozy as the woodsman's cabin. He certainly gives no sign of loneliness or discomfort, even if he has no mate during the long winter months.

As we stroll towards the bluffs where the wood ends, the last years leaves dance over the snow ahead of us and add their tracks to the labyrinth or squirrel and field mice foot prints. Although the wood is apparently so barren of life in bright light of day, I suspect it wears a different aspect under the cold light of the winter moon.

We come out on the bluff and our view widens to a long sweep over boggy pasture, marsh, and fields. It is well not to hurry on our stroll and as snow windrows at the edge of the bluff make inviting seats, let us sit down for a while and "take stock" as it were of the view spread out before us. Beneath us Spring Brook is gurgling and bubbling as it winds in and out among the frozen bogs and snow drifts. Here and there it is spanned by an ice bridge under which the black and warm looking waters disappear. Farther along its course, the vapor and mist show where the air again is reached. Beyond is the marsh, a vast white expanse, the snow nearly obliterating the bogs. The willows rim the swamp with a dark fringe and form, as it were, a step to the gloomy woods beyond. Dark woods and snow white fields alternate and accentuate each other until the eye is lost in the blue distance.

On the motionless pinions, a hawk is hanging over the forest. How sharply silueted it is against the cold wintry sky. Over the willows four ducks, mallards probably, are following the course of the brook. Blue jays are screaming in the sumac bushes behind us and a troop of goldfinches, in their quiet winter dress, are bathing in the brook. Rather cold work, I should imagine. The sky is changeable as an opal, the snow clad fields sparkle with countless diamonds, the trees and woods frame all with jet. He who cannot be impressed by such a scene is, indeed, to be pitied. Surely life is worth living when one can see, and feel, and enjoy such a scene as this.

With the toe of my shoe I dig out of the clay wall of the bluff, an Indian arrow-head. It is a small, bird arrow-head, perhaps, launched at a wild turkey by some Winnebago hunter, long ago. I like to imagine, how, after he had secured his quarry and drawn out the arrow, he sat where I am sitting and looking at the wondrous scene before him, dropped the arrow from his heedless hand.

Digging our heels into the clay we slide down the face of the bluff to the edge of the brook. The channel is nearly choked with cress, as green and fresh as in the springtime. In the little openings in the cress made by the current, several water beetles are darting about, each with his globule of air snugly tucked under the tips of his wing covers. A school of minnows scurry by in haste to reach some an upstream rendezvous. Along the stream are seen the cat-like tracks of the mink. This little stream furnishes them with a steady diet of crawfish, frogs, and fish through the cold winter months.

If the mink has such good luck, suppose we try ours. Our net is already spread in the mat green stuff that chokes up the current. We will haul our net by lifting out a mass of the water cress. It fairly swarms with life and looking it over we find a multitude of specimens. A number of large mud minnows do their best to jump back into the water and a lot of large water beetles slowly follow them over the snow. Small crayfish and large tadpoles are kicking and sputtering in the mud. A fresh water killifish and dozens of shrimps are among the contents. See how this tiny brook swarms with life for, mind you, we have examined only one very small section of its contents.

Jumping the brook, we are on the bogs of the swamp and surrounded by the bullrushes. Their long sword leaves are tangled, and twisted, and frozen into the ice at all angles. Nearly every other bunch of rushes has its battered nest of the Red-wing hidden in its midst. Here and there a larger bunch holds the globular nest of the marsh wren and some few of them have been utilized by the field mice for their winter domicile.

But we have roamed long enough , the sun is getting low and the shadows lengthen in the wood we must pass through on our return. We have read a sentence or so in Nature's great book and trust enjoyed it even though it is impossible to translate it perfectly.

Publicado el 15 de octubre de 2022 a las 05:08 PM por neylon neylon


Very cool.

Anotado por jonidenker hace casi 2 años

Yes, gorgeous.

Anotado por susanhewitt hace más de un año

Wow this is cool and tells it all just like it is in winter!

Anotado por ken-potter hace 6 meses

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